“Pass the salt, Paul” John requested of his first son from his position at the head of the table. It was 7:30 pm, the usual time for dinner in the Bankole household.
John Adewale Bankole, the head of the household, the C.E.O of Banky textiles and paper factory sat at the head of the table with his usual jovial face and rounded belly. He was flanked on the left by his wife, Elsie Bankole, the matron and mistress of the house. Facing John directly at the other end of the table was his first son, Paul Bankole, the very cheerful and ever responsible first son, working as the Manager of the factory section of the Banky corporation.
To Paul’s right was Andrew, the second son. Quiet, efficient but suffering from chronic schizophrenia. Kenneth, the third son, sat next to Andrew. Kenneth is a successful lawyer and the literal black sheep every family must possess because he didn’t follow the family business.
Next to Kenneth was Annie, the lively but sometimes reserved medical student. A friend to both Kenneth and Susie , the only daughter and last child of the household. Susie in all her last born splendor sat next to Annie with ever ready smiles because, well, it was her birthday and everyone had gathered for supper because of that. That completed the right side of the dining table.
On Paul’s right was Mabel, Paul’s wife, the family Doctor, Shy and all smiles. The seat next to her was conspicuously empty. Daniel Adebayo Bankole, John’s Father, sat next to the empty seat. The old man started staying with his son’s family after he became too old to continue his position as the former C.E.O.
The seat next to him was occupied by cousin Bam. No one can really pin point how he is related to the family, but John took him in and he became cousin Bam. Next to Bam was Tope, Elsie’s youngest sister.
She was a bit reserved since it was her first dinner with the family after her sister married John a while after his wife, the mother of his children, died.
All in all, there were twelve seats at the table. Five to each side and the Two at the ends of the table. As John was about to say grace, Albert rushed in, muttering apologies as he pulled out his chair, the empty one and sat down. He’s the fourth son and in his final year in the university.
“In the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit….. Bless us Oh Lord and this your gift which we are about to receive from your bounty, through Christ our Lord.” John said Grace.
“Amen” everyone responded.
Elsie stood up after that and started dishing the appetizer, Cat fish peppersoup, into small soup plates for everyone at the table, starting with her husband.
Annie stood up to fill her glass with cold water from the water dispenser behind her since there wasn’t bottled water in front of her.
“Since there’s no cake for a certain person’s birthday, the garden eggs and bananas will take its place.” Paul said with a sly smile at his Sister, Susie, who simply stuck out her tongue at him.
“I thought you were supposed to get her cake, Kenneth.” John remarked as he took a big spoonful of his peppersoup.
“Well, she didn’t want Cake.” Kenneth answered.
“Annie, so you were part of the people that planned the no cake birthday ” John called out to Annie who was silently eating her peppersoup.
Annie looked up with a start, she was surprised her name was being called. “Me? I’m innocent oh. Kenneth and Susie killed and dissected the plan alone.”
Susie playfully slapped her friend and they all laughed heartily.
“Remember when we were younger Kenneth, when Andrew would dish out chores for us.” Paul called to Kenneth.
“Oh, sure. He’ll ask you something like ‘do you want to mow the lawn or do you want to prune the flowers’ whereas none of the chores are easy.” Kenneth replied while battling with a bone sticking out of the fish in his spoon.
“Well, Andrew has always been well able to control things.” John agreed.
“He even made a roaster for it.” Kenneth added.
“He gave me one in a paper last month, it had ‘you have the village branch this morning’ I read and he still kept on calling but I couldn’t pick cuz I was in the chapel. Next thing I know, he shows up at the chapel door and calls ‘Dad’. Immediately, I had to tell him ‘I’ve seen it Andrew before he finally left me alone.
The table started laughing at John’s recount of Andrew’s habits.
“I was just doing what God asked of me.” Andrew replied gently from his seat.
“Sure Andrew Sure.” Paul said.
John took a bottle of Donelly wine and uncorked it with a loud pop while everyone cheered heartily. Cousin Bam also opened the bottle of pink wine with a more gentle pop.
People passed the wine around and started pouring in their cups while John asked Tope to go and get a plate of ice for the drinks.
Elsie stood up to start serving the rice, stew and chicken while those that were done with their peppersoup passed their empty soup plates down the table to be dropped into the basket situated beside Susie for dirty plates.
“Not sure I can finish a plate of rice alone, can I eat with you?” Annie silently asked Susie.
“Sure you can. And why aren’t you drinking wine?” Susie asked.
“You know I don’t drink.”
“The alcohol content is low. Except the vodka of course.” Susie answered.
Annie took the Donelly bottle and saw it was 7.5% alcohol content while the pink one was 9.5%.
“Don’t even bother checking the vodka. It’s 38.something %.” Kenneth said with a conspiratory smile as he closed the vodka bottle and passed it to his Father.
“I know that. Was just checking. Can I have your bottled water?”
“Sure. Drink to your fill.” He told her cheekily.
“Smart ass.” Annie muttered under her breath.
The conversation around the table went on in great swing. Halfway through the dinner, Paul turned himself into the designated comedian entertaining everyone with his stories while Kenneth would chip in his and his everyone would start laughing.
The topic moved from their university days experiences, to the different accents of Yoruba, Hausa, igbo and Esan people in English language to finally end at the solemnity of Good Friday.
“…..people used to weep at those strong words then” Kenneth was saying.
“Now, you’ll see people saying ‘Bros, no Jesus be that? Ehn ehn, you know am?” Paul concluded while everyone started laughing.
“At the Cross….” Albert said.
“Oh yes, that was the beginning of one of the recitations then.” Andrew said.
“At the table…” John said while taking a sip of his wine.
“Where there is no cake” someone said lowly.
The whole table started laughing immediately.
“Dad said that.” Paul said immediately.
“I didn’t finish my statement. I only said at the table.” John answered them.
“Then it should be Albert” Paul continued.
“It was you.” Albert and Kenneth said at once, pointing to Paul.
“Well, there’s no cake at the table.” He said with a cheeky smile while everyone laughed again.
“Now Grandpa Daniel should sing for Susie with his amazing voice.” Paul said to the quiet man who has been gently observing the goings at the table.
“Let me finish my food first.” The man said.
“Papa, we are waiting.” Paul said.
“He’s trying to finish eating.” Both cousin Bam and Albert said to Paul.
John tried making Annie drink wine but she turned down the offer to face Kenneth instead, who was ever ready to play along in the game of Annie ignoring his Father.
“Why are you sifting through the ice pot like a pot of soup.” Annie asked Kenneth with a gentle smile as he used his spoon to wade through the pot of slowly melting ice.
“Well, it does look like a pot of soup.” Kenneth replied with a sly smile matching hers.
“You’re absolutely ridiculous, I swear.” Annie said with a grin as she thanked him for putting ice in her glass of water.
“That I am.” He said with a wink and continued his drink.
The plates were packed when Grandpa Daniel finally finished eating. He cleared his voice and started his song in his very deep baritone voice. Everyone around the table was trying so hard not to laugh at how good and funny his voice was.
He finished the baritone and started singing falsetto, this time, they all started laughing. Immediately he finished the serenade, everyone started clapping while Susie was beaming with adoration at her grandfather.
“Now we’ll all be on our feet except Susie while we sing a Happy Birthday song for her.” John said in a gentle commanding tone.
Everyone stood up while Susie remained on her seat between Elsie and Annie.
“Heeeeee Happy Birthday, Heeeeee Happy Birthday, happy Birthday… …”
“Heeeeee happy Birthday… “
Paul sang while the others responded. Immediately, John and Tope started drumming the empty wine bottles with their spoons while Cousin Bam drummed the food warmer and serving spoon with a little spoon in all seriousness. Paul the lead singer drummed his mug cup with spoon also while Kenneth, Andrew, Mabel (Paul’s wife), Albert who was whispering to her all through dinner, Elsie, Grandpa Daniel and Annie clapped their hands and everyone sang and danced gaily.
After the song, everyone raised their wine and water glasses respectively to a toast.
“To long life and prosperity… Hip Hip Hip… “
“Hurray!” Everyone responded.
“To success, happiness, joy and peace… Hip hip hip…. “
“To cake cuz there was none today…..”
“Paul” Everyone called.
“Sorry, To Susie……. Hip hip hip… ” He called one last time.
“Hurray!!!” Everyone shouted and started clinking their glasses together.
The dinner was over but conversation continued flowing around the table in good nature.
No one would remember that Andrew was schizophrenic, or that Paul and his wife might not be too happy with each other. That Albert was obvious crushing on his Brother’s wife. That Grandpa Daniel might be starting to show senility.
That Tope loves her sister’s husband while Elsie would ignore her husband’s infidelities. Susie and Kenneth would pretend they didn’t know that John raped their friend, Annie. While Annie would pretend she was fine when she was quietly loosing it in a deep corner of her mind.
As for the Patriarch of the household, John would continue trying to make conversation with Annie, hoping Susie and Kenneth did not know what he did to her.
Andrew the schizophrenic would also pretend Annie didn’t catch him grabbing Rachael, the cook’s butt.
After all, it was a birthday dinner. Supper was an important family meal. It was convenient to ignore the skeletons in their Cupboards and pretend for just one night that everything was okay.
Oluwaseun Wende © 2017
For more of Annie’s stories check out
Annie 1 and
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